Life in a Reykjavik Suburb

Einar Már Gudmundsson
Einar már guðmundssonnÓv0211
Einar Már Gudmundsson
Einar Már Gudmundsson (1954) is the most widely translated Icelandic author born in the post-war period, a novelist, short-story writer and poet. He has written eight novels in the past twenty years, published five books of poetry and two of short stories, a collection of essays, and three books for young readers. He has also written two film scripts and translated two foreign novels. His first three novels paint the world of children and adolescents in the fifties in one of Reykjavik's neighbourhoods, then being built. His best-known novel is Englar alheimsins (Angels of the Universe, 1993), which earned him the literary prize of the Nordic Council in 1995. Einar Már's three latest novels deal with the poverty and struggle of a large family in the mid-twentieth century. His first collection of poetry was published in 1980, and he immediately became one of the leading voices of neorealism. His poetic diction was a bold attempt to make slang and foreign loan words legal tender in poetry, and to draw images from everyday life. He has received many awards, including the Nordic Council Prize for Literature in 1995 for Angels of the Universe, a novel which was later turned into a successful movie by director Fridrik Thor Fridriksson.
Read poems here by Einar Már Guðmundsson translated by Bernard Scudder

Homer, Singer of Tales

One rainy afternoon,
on a ship from a much-travelled dream,
Homer the singer of tales arrived in Reykjavík.
He walked from the quayside
and took a cab that drove him
along rain-grey streets
where sorry houses passed by.
At the crossroads Homer the singer of tales turned
to the driver and said:
'How can it be imagined
that here in this rain-grey
monotony lives a nation of storytellers?'
'That's exactly why,' answered the cab diver,
'you never want to hear
a good tale as much as when the drops
beat on the windows.'

When the drops beat on the windows
and the fog gliding into the bay
covers mountain and ocean alike,
nothing worth the telling
except the slush on the streets,
no enchanting song,
no singing sun,
only footprints that vanish
like rain into the ocean,
into the void and the wind
that sings and blows...
Cloaked in grey
time passes along the streets,
the odd bird hovers
dreamlessly above the town,
the clouds' veils of rain
tighten around the throat
and the dark of night pours
like a net over the world.
A man sails a boat out into the ocean,
there is a singing wave,
there is a sleeping house,
a sail wrung in a dream,
the world ripples
across a black sea
and the lights pass
like flames along the streets.

Don't Speak of Large Nations

Don't speak of large nations and small nations,
outposts, corners and peripheries.
This is a globe; its centre
rests beneath your feet
and shifts its ground and follows
you wherever you go.
Here is the land
where the continents correspond
in their quest for silence and rock.
Behold the glacier,
how it pounds through the blue
like a polar bear crossing the world.
In the dream a door opens
and the darkness flows
like tears through sleep.

Here is the land
where time drops
like a newspaper through a letter-hole,
but there is no subscriber,
no space,
only fathomless depths
where the stars glitter.
When we sink
into the swamp of night
we drag ourselves up by the hair.

The Milky Way
is a street in a little hamlet,
fate a net
that spreads over the houses,
we drink a toast
with the deep ocean between us.
The northern lights
burn by the path.

I Think of You

I think of you
revolving through life
at 78 rpm
so scruffy
that the days no longer fit you
any more than the little anoraks
from our times at the swings
I think of you
amongst the brown sugardrops of memories
which I admit are often black as liquorice
of you
when the sandpit was hollywood
and the little plastic cars in the solemnity of a dream
drove us into the smart homes
from glossy magazine advertisements
that the dentist kept in his waiting-room
I owned
the orange villa on snob hill

I think of you
when we walked the beach
shyly looking at the used condoms
the broken ships
that would never sail again
on their oceanic bummers
and were at best
a refuge of smugglers
and acne-faced boys who wanked
in the rusty holds
mentally getting their first bit
and manky planks
and the yellow mental asylum
and the green island
where the monastery still awaits
the monks who have long since departed
and will never return
except sometimes
disguised as tourists

I think of you
in the stairways of housing blocks
in the haze of the sweetshop
that was freedom beyond
the fence
that breaktime locked us inside
of you
when winter kindled cold cigarettes
between us
you in the sweetshop and heroes of
the cold war in pornographic poses
dirty magazines in the window
that made the boiler room mystical
when we made sure
no one could hear the kisses that rang
like shouts between us
I was hans and you were gretel
the witch was the woman upstairs

I think of you
who thought you could joke with days
that later proved deadly serious
and turned themselves in like gangsters
in the midwinter exams
that hung like a cobweb
in the ribbons of plaits and spread
over the crewcut heads
on an eternal bummer
in the headmaster's speeches
it was like jumping a bus only with time
putting it all off until tomorrow
sooner or later you would fall under the wheels
I think of you
whose only mistakes were made
from ruthlessness towards yourself
your face so wrinkled
so lethargic in a cottoned dream along the streets
like an airbed
that the wind has forsaken

and I think of me
turning to avoid that face
at the bus stop
like truth
like a memory I have buried
with an azure ticket between your fingers
en route to where
the used condoms
the broken ships
and the yellow asylum
still await you
at 16 rpm through life
gathering rings under your eyes in your sleep.

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